2001: An Anarchist Odyssey was the first major national anarchist conference in over four years. Anarchists and other anti-capitalists gathered from around the country in Christchurch over Labour Weekend (October 20-21) for two days of workshops, discussions, and other fun activities loosely based on the theme of local responses to capitalist globalisation. The conference was hosted by the Anarchist Round Table (ART).
Organising against capitalism in the 21st century
Opening address to the "anarchist odyssey" conference in Christchurch, October 2001
Capitalism is under challenge for the first time in decades. From PNG [Papua New Guinea] to Prague, Seattle to South Africa there is a growing movement against the instruments of capitalist globalisation - the World Economic Forum, and the Bretton Woods Institutions (the International Monetary Fund and World Bank which Leigh Cookson will talk about soon).
anarchism is order capitalism is chaos
Capitalism is the system of private ownership of the big things in life (or the means of production as they're more often called). It's taken us to a point where 3 people are wealthier than the poorest 48 countries. Call us crazy but we think a system where half the world's population annual income is equal to the wealth of world's 225 richest people is unjust and will continue to sow bitterness, hatred war and terrorism.
While mainstream media talk of 'anarchy' erupting whenever warlords who are not 'our' warlords go on a chaotic rampage we repeat again and again anarchy is not chaos. Anarchy is order, capitalism is chaos.
Anarchism is not about 'doing your own thing', it's not solely concerned with individuality although the creeping ideology of me-ism is gaining ground in our consumer culture. Anarchism is a movement, it is a praxis - which means theory into action. Anarchism is a strand of socialism with a history of over 150 years.
the struggle against forgetting
A lot of people say "why bother with history, who cares what a bunch of dead white males with long beards did". While it's true that history, even radical history has been very eurocentric and male oriented we need to know our history - not His-story but Our-story. Not of the kings and queens but of the People. This knowledge is nourishing and sustaining. You are not alone. Things are not as bad as they may seem. Things that seem impossible are achievable. You are not the spaceman on the poster for this conference - alone, isolated, on another planet. You are part of a movement.
Milan Kundera said "the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting". Or as King Kapisi says "Fix Amnesia".
We are asked to forget that the CIA put $6 billion dollars into training Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan. We are asked to forget that it was the Labour Party that privatised Air New Zealand in the first place. We are asked to forget the colonialism that has built the wealth of Western nations. We are asked to forget that the only terrorism this country has seen was done by the French State against Greenpeace. And we are asked to forget the people's struggles that have given us the hard won breathing space and relative freedoms we enjoy today. And mostly we obey by forgetting.
Our first step in organising against capitalism in the 21st century is to reclaim the knowledge that past generations possessed and understand it ourselves. We should gain courage in the fact that people have struggled and won piece by piece.
I tell you this not to glorify the vote as the pinnacle of achievement but to realise that the thirst for freedom is unstoppable and it will always continue despite oppression. You may think I'm being a bit dramatic talking of oppression while in safe and relatively affluent Aotearoa but notice that the ozone hole is the most dangerous its ever been, we stand on the brink of a possible world war, and as 1951 shows us democratic freedoms are paper thin in times of crisis.
1951 for those too young to know was when it was made illegal, right here in Aotearoa, to talk in public in support of the wharfies union, or to give food to a wharfie or their family or even to discuss the law that made all these things illegal. The wharfies crime was to refuse to work more than 40 hours a week.
That's why we need to learn and understand our history, our context. When we understand our context we can start to clarify our vision for the future, which is desperately needed work. Anarchists like Bookchin and Michael Albert are doing this with Social Ecology and Participatory Economics. But vision cannot be built without context.
join the greens? nope...
And to put things in context the anti-capitalist globalisation movement did not begin in Seattle and terrorism didn't start on September 11 2001. I want to talk about three September 11's that put anarchist politics into a context. People often say, OK there's problems with the system, why not correct them by creating or joining a political party. Many young people disillusioned with the system are joining the Greens. And yet even the Greens themselves will admit that while they are not part of the government they can make as many good sounding noises they want but the minute they are in the government it will be a different story as many disappointed Alliance supporters have found out.
I suggest looking at the German Greens who started out fairly radical. Joschka Fischer was an anarchist 20 years ago and is now the Vice Chancellor and foreign minister of Germany. The German Greens have gone from espousing non-violence as a main principle to cheerleading the US bombing of Afghanistan. The US, Joschka Fischer explains, is the only country with a big enough stick to enforce peace in Europe. This is not just a matter of the German Greens lacking moral fortitude - it's a systematic problem that faces all parties.
The NZ Labour Party started out calling for public ownership of the means of production and ended up overseeing the fastest and most wide ranging privatisation in the world (as Murray Horton will no doubt explain in tomorrow's workshop on who owns New Zealand). Labour are pushing for capitalist globalisation by stealth through free trade agreements like the Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement as Bill Rosenberg will explain in one of this afternoons workshops.
september 11 the first
But what if a party managed to stay true to its radical roots? That's where the first September 11 comes in. September 11 1973. Has anyone read any books by Isabelle Allende? Her uncle was Salvador Allende. In Chile Salvador Allende's National Alliance was a Marxist Party that had a programme of redistribution of power and resources to the poor. They were the first democratically elected Marxist Party in the world. But corporations didn't like that - in fact ITT put up $1 million to help overthrow Salvador Allende. The CIA didn't like it either. Henry Kissenger and President Nixon told the CIA it would be necessary to "make the Chilean economy scream". Kissenger said "I don't see why we need to stand around and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people".
And so, on September 11 1973 in a CIA backed military coup the Salvador Allende government was toppled, the parliament bombed, thousands rounded up and taken to football stadiums and shot and General Pinochet came to power preaching the free market policies of his advisor US economist Milton Friedman, hero of Thatcher, Reagan and NZ Labour Party Rogernomics.
Two years later the Whitlam govt. in Australia was toppled by less dramatic but still devious means. These days the power of global capital is so great they probably won't have to use such naked aggression to get rid of people that threaten their power.
But the lesson of September 11 1973 is clear - if a government could truly change things they would be removed - by force if necessary - so we see the real struggle is not to gain power but redistribute it, decentralise it, democratise it.
september 11 the second
Which leads to the second September 11, S11 2000 where over 10,000 protesters successfully blockaded the Crown Casino in Melbourne where the 1000 richest corporations were meeting under the banner of the World Economic Forum. Despite brutal attacks by the police the blockade stayed solid and non-violent which was a key to its success.
There were two main organising blocks at S11 - the S11 Alliance and S11 AWOL (AWOL standing for Autonomous Web of Liberation). The S11 Alliance took it upon themselves to be THE organisers of the blockade and organised marshalls with the view that decisions during the 3 days would be made by majority vote at mass meetings. The two largest marxist groups in Australia - the DSP [Democratic Socialist Party, pro-Cuba Leninists] and the ISO [International Socialist Organisation, Trotskyists] were vying for control of many of the positions within S11 Alliance.
S11 AWOL participants, on the other hand, argued for protesters organising themselves in a self managed blockade through affinity groups facilitated by a spokescouncil to which each affinity group would send a delegate. The S11 AWOL groups organised most of the medical and legal teams. Their organisational methods reflected not only anarchist praxis, and the so-called 'Seattle' approach but of how the peace and environment movement in Australia has evolved its direct action strategies over the last 20 years.
Tensions between centralised vs decentralised organising were minimised on September 11 because of the success of the blockade but grew that evening when on at least one picket marshalls were telling people to disband because other pickets were leaving. It was clear though, through the affinity networks, that this was not true. So a feeling grew that marshalls were not to be trusted and later when a marshall warned of an impending attack by riot police they were ignored and the picket unfortunately sustained the highest number of injuries of any picket over the period.
Some argue that anarchists insistence on the right to autonomous action destroys unity and ignores collective action. But let's look at the reality of this - the anarchists merely acknowledge the fact that while our unity is a strength, people will not do what someone tells them to do if they don't see a good reason to do it.
Both the DSP and the ISO wanted unity and democratic centralism but they both wanted their democratic centralism, to the point where on the victory march around Melbourne whey were continually fighting over the route of the rally and attempting to lead protesters in different directions. We all recognise the need for a strong movement against the corporate capitalist beast and recognise our need to work with others who do not share in all our visions for the future and our organisational methods. But this is why the movement is decentralised, diverse and flexible - organising in ways that are in harmony with anarchist principles. And that's why we are anarchists and not Trotskyists.
september 11 the third
Which leads to the third September 11, this years terrorist attacks on the US where 5000 ordinary working people lost their lives. In the wake of that event seemingly everything has changed. So which way forward? The very real gains of the anti-capitalist globalisation movement are now in danger of being lost along with our civil liberties. Lets not also lose our nerve. Self censorship is an ugly thing to see. We need to do a few things:
There is a plenary session tomorrow morning to further discuss planning for actions against the WTO and the war.
Finally we need to build the new world in the shell of the old. In building this movement the internet has been crucial and in itself is a great metaphor. Created by the US military for nuclear warfare it now is the very decentralised and non-hierarchical network that we are using to help connect the so called first and third world struggles.
While mainstream media have either covered this movement inaccurately or not at all an international decentralised non-hierarchical media network called IndyMedia has both covered and participated in the movement and spread to over 60 centres around the world. What better way to challenge the media than to become the media. In tomorrow's workshop on community media you'll hear how this network spans the globe using open source free software developed collaboratively and decentrally by anarchists.
- Grant F
Review of The Anarchist conference, held October 20-21 2001, Christchurch
2001: An Anarchist Odyssey was the first national anarchist conference held since 1997.
The conference was organised by the Christchurch based Anarchist Round
Table, and was attended by about 50 people from all over the country.
The conference started with a few speakers talking about the state of
the world and the state of the anti-capitalist movement, and then a whole
lot of smaller talks and workshops happened.
topics for discussion
Leigh Cookson from ARENA gave a talk on the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank and how these institutions fit together and how they affect the economy. Teanau and Evan from Aotearoa Educators talked about tino rangatiratanga. Murray Horton from CAFCA filled us in on many of the corporations that dominate this country's economy. Bill Rosenberg, also from CAFCA, talked about the proposed NZ-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement. Scott from the Auckland based Third Eye collective gave a talk analysing NZ history.
Other topics discussed included the IndyMedia network, the IWW radical
union in Dunedin, anti-capitalist revolution, and direct action. A big
topic of discussion was the anti war movement and our response to the
latest US war. A lot of us also talked about the planning for the November
9th day of action against capitalism which was only a few weeks later.
please write for us says thrall
The final session was a discussion on what people thought of the conference and what practical things we could do after the conference. Everyone generally agreed that the conference was well organised and worth coming to, and a lot of useful contacts were made. The people at Thrall made a request for more people to get involved in writing stuff for the only nationwide anarchist magazine in NZ (they even forced me to write this review). People recognised there was a need for more structured regional anarchist groups. There were a lot of people from Dunedin present which showed that anarchism is alive and kicking there.
a more outgoing anarchist movement
For me, the main contrast between this and previous anarchist conferences was that this conference had a lot more politics in it. Most of the conference goers were involved in activist groups and political movements. This was in contrast to conferences in the 90s that were often dominated by lifestyle topics and only a minority of people there were politically active.
The anarchist movement is a lot more outgoing than it was several years ago. For the first time, several respected activist speakers from outside the anarchist movement took part in the conference, and most of the anarchist speakers were active in wider political movements. The whole conference felt like a conference of political activists, which is how it should be.
The Anarchist Odyssey was one of the better activist conferences I have been to in the last few years, and I hope there is another one as soon as the organisers have recovered.
- Mark Eden
Notes from the Final Plenary Session of 2001: An Anarchist Oddysey
The last formal discussion of the conference took the form of a round where everyone took turns to say anything about the conference and anarchist organizing in Aoteaora, followed by a more informal brainstorm. Here are the notes I took, they will need to be sorted into compaints, suggestions, needs identified etc - need to form structured regional anarchist groups recognized - contact list for follow-up to be held by Anarchist Round Table in Christchurch - those present encouraged to involved themselves in People's Global Action network - Thrall zine crew invite contributions, especially news/ analysis of events in workplaces + communities as well as activism - screenprinting was good, future conferences should have more practical/ skill-sharing workshops - all present applauded the conference's food and promotional posters, stickers etc - maintainer of Anarchynz egroup invites participations in ongoing national e-mail discussion - people appreciated the level of knowledge shared in the different sessions - some people felt talks needed more structure while others enjoyed the opportunity for loose discussion, a difficult balance - egroup formed to discuss the links between anti-war and anti-capitalism (contact Scott or Kirsty for info) - 2001 AO website to be maintained as an organizing space for future conferences - people applauded the professionalism of the conference organising - people identified a need to turn ideas floated at conferences into practical action - organisers encouraged people to talk about the conference to other who didn't make it - build interest for future events - how to avoid time/date clashes that keep otherwise interested people away? - how to deal with the media??? their presence was somewhat disruptive during conference sessions, more feedback to them on when we can conveniently talk to them? - need for awareness of people's confidence levels in speaking to large groups - Dunedin people, there were heaps of you here, talk to each other! - need for more national co-ordination for conferences, dividing of tasks between different centres - people said they felt welcome to ask questions and offer opinions - events like conference good for overcoming isolation, building feelings of solidarity - people appreciated that others were open to new ideas and had tolerant and accepting attitude - a need was recognized to make interested non-anarchists feel more welcome to attend conferences - a need was recognized to promote 'little @ anarchism', organizational principles etc without hammering people with 'isms' - poster idea - a picture of Chomsky "this man likes anarchists" or "this man is an anarchist" - it was observed that indigenous people work more easily alongside anarchist structures that assimilated into the authoritarian left - suggestions for simultaneous north island/ south island conference with some degree of digital link-up - suggestions for pot of money for 'travel equalization' to bring more regional representatives from further afield - suggestions for outdoor/ rural conference venues where focus is easier to maintain and outdoor/ practical activities can balance talkfest - suggestions for more networking between anarchist women, maybe an anarcha-feminist egroup? - anybody coming to ChCh for N9 invited to go on a list held by ART for help with travel and accomodation - suggestion for people to take the idea of a national day of anti-war action back to their local peace groups - childcare discussed, apparently it could have been arranged but wasn't requested, recognized that people shouldn't feel left out because of being parents - finances discussed, apparently registrations should cover conference overheads - ART to let us all know.
Anarchist Round Table (ART)